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Sujo Fernanda Valdez Astrid Rondero Sujo Review


Sujo | 2024 Sundance Film Festival Review

Sujo | 2024 Sundance Film Festival Review

Goodbye Horses: Valadez & Rondero Explore a Valley of Violence

Working as co-directors on their latest feature Sujo, Fernanda Valadez and Astrid Rondero once again explore families dismantled by circumstance and violence. Having previously worked together on the exceptional Identifying Features (2020), on which Valadez served as director/producer from a script by Rondero, they explore another intimate saga for their titular protagonist, a young boy haunted by the dangerous legacy of his father, threatened by a perpetual cycle of violence. Juxtaposing the inherent menace lurking beneath the rural idyll of Tierra Caliente with the submerged promises buried in the urban sprawl of Mexico City, this four part narrative is a slow burn slippery slope until it reaches the grace notes of a third act atonement, revealing the graceful answer to what’s in a name.

The shadowy opening segment instills a formidable paranoia which never dissipates, the audience kept in the dark with the four-year-old Sujo, catching snippets of hushed conversations and troubling tones. It would appear his aunt Nemesia (Yadira Perez) doesn’t think much of her brother-in-law Josue, who insists on being called by his new ‘stage name’, The Eighth, a moniker bestowed upon by the cartel he now works for in the Tierra Caliente region. With Sujo’s mother having died in childbirth, he seems doomed to follow in his father’s footsteps. But when Josue is murdered, his spirit visits Nemesia allowing her to run away with Sujo. Nemesia is left to raise him in secret, alongside her friend Rosalia, a single parent to her two sons, Jeremy and Jai, who are about Sujo’s age.

Sujo Fernanda Valdez Astrid Rondero Sujo Review

Time passes, the three boys growing into teenagers. Jai (Alexis Varela) and Jeremy (Jairo Hernandez) begin working as mules for the cartel and introduce Sujo (now Juan Jesus Varela) into their ranks. But when Jeremy is tortured and murdered, Nemesia receives another ghostly visit warning her of the danger Sujo’s in. Packing him off to Mexico City and warning him never to return, Sujo begins a new, tentative life. Finding work in a warehouse, he begins visiting a local school, quietly inserting himself in the milieu and eventually catching the eye of a friendly teacher, Susan (Sandra Lorenzano), who sees something special in the young man. As she advises and mentors Sujo on what he needs to do to further his education, his new future is interrupted by the appearance of Jai. Owing the cartel a large sum of money to escape the same fate as his brother Jeremy, Jai requests Sujo’s assistance, which means compromising his relationship with Susan.

Sujo Fernanda Valdez Astrid Rondero Sujo Review

There’s a mysterious poetry to this bedeviled bildungsroman which builds to a compelling crescendo in the film’s fourth chapter, enhanced greatly by the charismatic Lorenzano, who has great chemistry with Varela as the teenaged Sujo. It resembles something like Good Will Hunting (1997) in how we’re led to believe he’s a diamond in the rough simply in need of a little tender but tough love. However, the drastic shift between Sujo’s existence in Tierra Caliente and Mexico City cuts some corners in characterization, as if we’re missing a chapter revealing Sujo’s personality and interests.

DP Ximena Amann captures the essence of progression, as Sujo’s journey through a land of scarcity and darkness eventually finds its way to the light. While the film builds to an interesting crescendo, it’s protracted opening chapters suggest a much more comprehensive saga, truncating the finale for a feature film running time.

Reviewed on January 19th at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival – World Cinema Dramatic Competition section. 126 mins.


Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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